Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Search Term: sciwhys

Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: How do cells age?

By Jonathan Crowe
We’ve all been there: the car that finally became too expensive to keep on the road as more and more parts needed to be replaced, or the computer that started to run so slowly you gave up even bothering to open your web browser. These and other everyday experiences show how there’s an increased risk of things breaking as they get older. And our own bodies aren’t immune: the hair at my temples (and on other parts of my head, I fear) is on a resolute march towards greyness, and my eyesight isn’t as sharp as it once was. In short, our cells are just as susceptible to breaking down as they age as anything else.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: How do organisms develop?

By Jonathan Crowe
Each of our bodies is a mass of cells of varying types – from the brain cells that give us the power of thought, to the cardiac cells that form our heart and keep our blood circulating; from the lung cells that take in oxygen from the air around us, to the skin cells that envelop the organs and tissues that lie within. Regardless of their ultimate function, however, each of these cells has come from a single source – the fertilised egg. But how can the complexity and intricacy of a fully-functioning organism stem from such humble beginnings?

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: a cure for Carys? Part Two

By Jonathan Crowe
Using science to understand our world can help to improve our lives. In my last post and in this one, I want to illustrate this point with an example of how progress in science is providing hope for the future for one family, and many others like them.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: a cure for Carys?

By Jonathan Crowe
Using science to understand our world can help to improve our lives. In this post and the next, I want to illustrate this point with an example of how progress in science is providing hope for the future for one family, and many others like them.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: Why do we eat food?

By Jonathan Crowe
You may well be thinking that the question posed in the title of this blog has an all-too-obvious answer. We all know that we eat food to keep ourselves alive. But why do we find ourselves slaves to our appetites and rumbling stomachs?

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: Why are plants green?

By Jonathan Crowe
After the greyness of winter, the arrival of spring is heralded by a splash of colour as plants emerge from the soil, and trees seemingly erupt with leaves. Soon, much of the countryside has moved from being something of a grey, barren wasteland to a sea of verdant green. But why is it that so much vegetation is green? Why not a sea of red, or blue? To answer this question let me take you on a colourful journey from the sun to within the cells of plant leaves.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: Why are we told always to finish a course of antibiotics?

By Jonathan Crowe
Most of us have at one time or another been prescribed a course of antibiotics by our GP. But how many of us heed the instruction to complete the course – to continue taking the tablets or capsules until none remain? Very often, our strict adherence to the prescription fades in line with our symptoms: the prescription may last for, say, seven days, but we’re often feeling much better after just two or three. So why bother continuing to take the antibiotic?

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: What’s the difference between bacteria and viruses?

This is the latest post in our regular OUPblog column SciWhys. Every month OUP editor and author Jonathan Crowe will be answering your science questions. Got a burning question about science that you’d like answered? Just email it to us, and Jonathan will answer what he can. Today: what’s the difference between bacteria and viruses?

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: How does the immune system work?

By Jonathan Crowe
Each day of our lives is a battle for survival against an army of invaders so vast in size that it outnumbers the human population hugely. Yet, despite its vastness, this army is an invisible threat, each individual so small that it cannot be seen with the naked eye. These are the microbes – among them the bacteria and viruses – that surround us every day, and could in one way or another kill us were it not for our immune system, an ingenious defence mechanism that protects us from these invisible foes.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: How does an organism evolve?

By Jonathan Crowe
The world around us has been in a state of constant change for millions of years: mountains have been thrust skywards as the plates that make up the Earth’s surface crash against each other; huge glaciers have sculpted valleys into the landscape; arid deserts have replaced fertile grasslands as rain patterns have changed. But the living organisms that populate this world are just as dynamic: as environments have changed, so too has the plethora of creatures inhabiting them. But how do creatures change to keep step with the world in which they live? The answer lies in the process of evolution.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: How is a gene’s information used by a cell?

By Jonathan Crowe
In my last two posts I’ve introduced the notion that DNA acts as a store of biological information; this information is stored in a series of chromosomes, each of which are divided into a number of genes. Each gene in turn contains one ‘snippet’ of biological information. But how are these genes actually used? How is the information stored in these genes actually extracted to do something useful (if ‘useful’ isn’t too flippant a term for something that the very continuation of life depends upon).

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: What are genes and genomes?

By Jonathan Crowe
I described in my last blog post how DNA acts as a store of biological information – information that serves as a set of instructions that direct our growth and function. Indeed, we could consider DNA to be the biological equivalent of a library – another repository of information with which we’re all probably much more familiar. The information we find in a library isn’t present in one huge tome, however. Rather, it is divided into discrete packages of information – namely books. And so it is with DNA: the biological information it stores isn’t captured in a single, huge molecule, but is divided into separate entities called chromosomes – the biological equivalent of individual books in a library.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

SciWhys: What is DNA and what does it do?

Today we’d like to introduce our latest regular OUPblog column: SciWhys. Every month OUP editor and author Jonathan Crowe will be answering your science questions. Got a burning question about science that you’d like answered? Just email it to us, and Jonathan will answer what he can. Kicking us off: What is DNA and what does it do?

Read More